By MERRILEE GASSER
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Visitor spending in Hawaii has yet to recover to pre-pandemic levels, but it increased significantly from last year, according to a report.
Statistics from the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) show visitor spending in January was $1.4 billion, 19% less than the $1.73 billion visitors spent in January 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic sparked travel restrictions in the U.S.
Though the spending has yet to reach where it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics showed improvement over visitor spending in January 2021, when travel restrictions were near their highest, state officials said. Visitor spending dropped to $397.9 million that month, according to the DBEDT report released this week.
The increase in visitor spending comes as Hawaii continues to loosen its travel restrictions and COVID-19 protocols for visitors.
The mandatory self-quarantine period dropped Jan. 3 from 10 days to five for people traveling to Hawaii who did not have a negative pre-travel COVID-19 test or were not fully vaccinated.
Maui and Oahu have announced an end to their vaccine pass requirements. Maui dropped the requirement Feb. 21. Oahu’s is set to expire Sunday.
Gov. David Ige said Tuesday that Hawaii is ending its Safe Travels program for domestic travelers March 25. Domestic travelers to Hawaii will no longer need to provide proof of vaccination, fill out online forms or deal with QR codes, according to Gov. Ige. There also no longer will be additional requirements or restrictions to fly to Hawaii on a domestic flight.
“Global travel is opening up and we are seeing pent up demand,” DBEDT Director Mike McCartney said in a statement released with the new travel numbers. “We expect a strong summer and look forward to welcoming international visitors from Australia, New Zealand and Japan in the second half of the year.
“Hard decisions were made to protect our communities so as we see positive movement, we must continue to remain vigilant and strategically monitor the stability of COVID-19 spread and the impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine as it affects oil prices, air lift and consumer demand for travel.”
Officials with the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) said the increased spending was a good sign for economic growth as the state works to recover from the pandemic.
“The visitor industry continues to be a driver of job growth, career opportunities and economic diversification,” said John De Fries, the president and CEO for the HTA. “We continue our mission to Mālama Ku‘u Home (caring for my beloved home), working diligently to achieve the balance desired by our communities for the well-being of Hawai‘i and generations to come.”